As I mentioned briefly the other day, the BHA has – after some dedicated “doing Bugger All” – held a review, had a consultation and discovered that the Irish know how to beat the British handicapping system. With a tiny hint of knee-jerk, the BHA strode into action after the Irish horses smashed up English-trained horses at this year’s Cheltenham Festival. It is impossible to forget that we went into the meeting with the disgrace of Gordon Eliott grinning from the back of a dead horse and a matter of days later, Ireland took the handicaps 7-2 and the entire meeting 23-5, the worst performance from British owners and trainers in the Festival’s history.
The result, in brief, is that the BHA will try to get British horses to win by having them carry less weight.
The BHA’s Quality Jumps Review, (sorry I’m confused – the review was of Quality? The BHA is a quality organisation? The review was bloody good?), dug into piles of data and in the end opted for “subtle changes” to the current handicapping system to deliver greater accuracy.
These changes include:
- Older Horses, horses appearing to be going backwards and those without a win for a while, will have their handicap mark moved south.
- Novice hurdlers will start with lower ratings
- Horses without a run in the last six months will have their marks reviewed, presumably to see if that gets the owner to put it back into training
The BHA has committed to a greater, more detailed handicapping analysis, carried out more frequently to ensure that handicaps issued are more accurate and reflect the current position.
This new direction of travel will, it is hoped, resolve the issue of the steady increase in the handicap marks of the largest proportion of horses, with a 20lb rise between 2018 and 2021, compared to a 10lb rise for the same group between 2008-2011. The new handicapping system will be completed by January 1, 2022. The BHA’s senior handicapper, Dominic Gardiner-Hill, said:
“The object of this paper is to highlight the main area of interest and our planned course of action to rectify the situation. After discussions within the Handicapping team and other involved parties within the BHA, the decision has been made to address this issue basing the process on the analysis provided. The objective being to get the file distribution back to where it was (or close to where it was) during the 2008–2011 period…. Perhaps we should have done this sort of in-depth analysis earlier – but we’re doing something about it now…. We’re being proactive and we will get it done by January 1.”
This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. As I wrote in my article of 27th March (“Did Cheltenham Week sound an alarm for you?”), all the signs were there. But while this may well be a Golden Age for Irish racing, and Brian Kavanagh is God Made Man, the fact is we have probably been going wrong since the days of Kauto Star’s mark of 191 – and the Review of Quality suggests as much.
The principal aim is for all horses to cross the finishing line at the same time in a handicap, by carrying sufficient weight to provide an equitable finish. To do this the handicappers use a “Performance Figure” as their starting point, that figure is a combination of various metrics and race data (going, similar races that day, historical, etc) with the handicapper sitting at home watching races over and over again to learn more about each horse. All the time they’re using Time analysis, Speed figures, Sectional timings, Historical form, pace data (races upfront or comes late), race experience, (good in a crowd, only had three races before), traffic problems in the race being analysed, and so on and so forth. All that info gives the handicapper the ability to deliver a mark.
So if you’re a handicapper reading this, please believe me when I say I admire your skills and OCD-level detail focus, more than I can possibly express. But somewhere along the way, the system has got it wrong. Ruby Walsh, (fine man you are), made the point this week in reference to a Donald McCain horse, PRESENTANDCOUNTING a former 115 Hurdler. He won yet another C3 at Stratford with a chasing mark of 147 after winning at Stratford, Perth and Cartmel. He was 2nd behind RUTHLESS MARK off 122 in June at Aintree. He will undoubtedly get at least another 3lbs for Stratford, but the race readers at Raceform said of him: “He may continue to thrive in small field chases before the stronger types come out”. They mean horses presumably that are rated 150+. They mean horses like CHANTRY HOUSE, CLONDAW CASTLE, GALVIN, ASO, TIGER ROLL, MIGHT BITE, PRESENTING PERCY, TEA FOR TWO and so on and so forth over the last five years. Time will tell – but I bet you he won’t win a 10 runner plus C1 – because he’s a Class 2 horse (at best) with a C1 rating. That’s because the handicapping system is broken. Simples.
Talking of broken, a quick snatch at today’s fun, as Mandy Rice-Davies used to say.
1:40 DONCASTER British Stallion Studs EBF ‘Carrie Red’ Fillies’ Nursery Hcap Cl2 (2yo) 6½f
2:10 DONCASTER Weatherbys Scientific £200,000 2-Y-O Stakes Cl2 (2yo) 6½f
JAZZ CLUB Win
2:40 DONCASTER Cazoo May Hill Stakes (G2) (Fillies) Cl1 (2yo) 1m
2:55 EPSOM Emplas Express Jump Jockeys Derby Hcap (For Professional Jump Jockeys) Cl4 (4yo+ 0-85) 1m4f
VALENTINO DANCER Win
3:15 DONCASTER Hippo Pro3 Park Hill Fillies’ Stakes (G2) Cl1 (3yo+) 1m6½f
SILENCE PLEASE e/w
3:45 DONCASTER Cazoo Hcap Cl2 (3yo 0-100) 7f
SEVEN BROTHERS e/w (ask for three places at 11/1 Bet 365)